Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg: an Alsatian chef-d'oeuvre

article from I Collect Castles.com  

Château du Haut-KSnigsbourg
High on a rock, overlooking the Rhine Valley, the pink sandstone fortress is a magical place.

We got to visit this beautiful medieval castle during a 2 and a half day trip to Alsace, France.
This is how we made the most of our Alsatian visit:
Day 1: Paris > Strasbourg
We spent the first day in Strasbourg. Make sure to see the Grand Ile (the Cathedral Dome is worth going up the few hundred steps) and the Petite France neighborhoods.
Strasbourg Canal

Day 2: Strasbourg > Selestat > La Montagne des Singes > Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg > Selestat > Colmar > Strasbourg
Next morning we took the train from Strasbourg, heading south towards Selestat. There are no seat reservations on the train and it's usually completely packed, therefore make sure to be there a bit early so you can at least get in.
Selestat is the town from where you take a shuttle bus to the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle (from right outside the train station).
Great thing about the shuttle bus: the ticket (~4eur) is available throughout the day so you can actually hop on and off to see other sites along your way to the castle.
Shuttle is called Line 500, here you have a complete bus line map and schedule.
Our stop was La Montagne des Singes - a 200 macaques monkey natural park. You need approx 1 hour to see it. If you leave Strasbourg around 9am you'll get there before 12:00 and you get to see how the monkeys are fed. In any case they give you pop-corn at the entrance and you can actually get pretty close to the monkeys. Cool experience!
Montagne des Singes 

The way upwards, to the castle, is a truly nice ride. Beautiful scenery, you'll have a very good view of the Rhine Valley from up there.
At the castle, if you get the chance to join a guided tour take it, it's free and you get to have some history bits and discover cool things about the castle's restoration; the tour guide we had was remarkably committed - he really made the tour.
See Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg official website for extra details.
Tip: make sure to buy a day train ticket instead of just a round trip to Selestat, it's a bit cheaper and you get to hop on any train within the Alsace region.
By the time you finish the castle visit you'll probably have a few more hours to spend around the region. When back to the Selestat train station you can get the train to visit other places too. We picked Colmar, a pretty little town close to the German border. It looks very much like the Petite France neighborhood in Strasbourg, picturesque with very well preserved old town.
Colmar, France 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Sceaux Estate: castle, museum and gorgeous gardens

article from I Collect Castles.com

This beautiful estate is really not far from Paris so there's definitely no excuse for living here and not visiting. The castle is not among the most impressive ones, but the gardens are absolutely gorgeous, as you can see in the above image.
We had a really cozy picnic in the gardens, with a beautiful view, facing the castle.

How to get there by public transportation:
- RER B from Paris to Bourg-la-Reine, Sceaux or Parc de Sceaux stations. We thought Parc de Sceaux is the nearest one, but I guess you can pick any of the three.

Download below a map/plan of the estates.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

La Roche-Guyon: the castle where the bus has no return

article from I Collect Castles.com

La Roche-Guyon

La Roche-Guyon is a must see castle within Ile-de-France. We went there around my husband's birthday, for a b-day castle visit/b-day trip and we were very impressed with it.
We were totally mesmerized by the scenery, the castle is medieval and was built on a high cliff in the 12th century. There is a manor house below the medieval castle; that's actually where your visit starts.
The inside court of the manor house takes you all the way up to the fortified castle through an underground tunnel staircase carved in the rocky cliff.

Quite a few steep steps, very dark, but definitely worth it.

The panoramic view from the top of the cliff is priceless. 

Weird thing to remember regarding bus route! It takes you to the castle, but it doesn't take you back. 

First let's see how to get there:
1. Take Transilien train from Paris Saint Lazare train station >> Mantes-la-Jolie station
2. Shuttle bus from Mantes-la-Jolie >> castle
This is the tricky part, we took it thinking it would be only normal for the bus to have a return route; but its return wasn't passing by the castle. At least not that day ;)
Luckily we came up with the great plan of taking the bus from the same station we arrived at. The bus took us a few stops further where its route was somehow connected to a return station.
At least we have a funny story to tell.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stop by the Vianden Castle while in the tiny Duchy of Luxembourg

article from I Collect Castles.com

Even if you don’t usually collect castles, you’ll want to pay this one a visit when in Luxembourg.
Well… first of all because there’s not much to do in Luxembourg City. Yeah, the city is capital and its tininess gives it a certain charm, but at the end of the first day you’ll realize there’s nothing left to do and you still have one or two more days to go. 
The fortified Vianden Castle is around 1000 year old and it was built on a rocky cliff, towering over the Our river and cozy Vianden Commune.
It was an amazing one day trip, took us about an hour to get there. We visited the castle, enjoyed the view, and then we had a late lunch on the Our riverbanks, not far from the little bridge and Victor Hugo House.
  1. Take train from Luxembourg train station to Ettlebruck station
  2. Bus #570 from Ettlebruck to Vianden; the bus station is next to the train station;
  3. When you get off the bus in Vianden, you can either take it by foot (castle is ~300 m altitude) or take the Vianden Chairlift up to a gorgeous scenic view from where you walk a few more minutes to the castle.
Part of the prettiness of this day trip is enjoying the beautiful view! I definitely encourage you to take the chairlift. Plus you can get to see more of Vianden streets, architecture etc. while going back down (by taking the Grand Rue — see map here).
Aerial view of Vianden

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chateau de Malmaison - an empress' manor house

The British Royal wedding is coming up, therefore a visit to a charming empress' country house should seem like a splendid idea.
This specific small chateau is one of the closest to Paris and should be on your list of castle visits when coming to or living in Paris. I would call it 'yet another reason why Versailles shouldn't necessarily be your first pick'. Yes, Versailles is the symbol of French monarchy and a beautiful architectural piece, but years of high tourist numbers tend to drain the substance out of such a historical site. Plus a photo with you and the castle doesn't seem as special when you take it with a few hundred fellow visitors.

Chateau de Malmaison made its way into history when it was bought by Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, a couple of hundred years ago.
The origins of the name are uncertain. Malmaison, from the Latin mala domus, means bad house. There's the assumption that it might stem from the bad or poor attendance during the Middle Ages (e.g.: thieves, Norman invasions)

After her divorce from Napoléon, Joséphine received Malmaison in her own right, along with a pension of 5 million francs a year, and remained there until her death in 1814. Napoléon returned and took residence in the house after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (1815), before his exile to the island of Saint Helena. (from Wikipedia)

Ticket is 6 EUR full price and free if under 26. 
I didn't have an ID with me to prove it, but they were nice enough to just ask me really fast what is my year of birth. 1987 (mille neuf cent quatre vingt sept), with my intermediary French level, went out rather slowly and the guy had to ask 'Madame, vous etes sure? / Miss, are you sure?'; they still let me in as an under 26 year old, but I'm glad to have a funny story and memory of the Malmaison visit...



Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chateau Vaux le Vicomte, inspiration of Versailles

Vaux le Vicomte is a baroque castle, near Melun, approx 50km southeast of Paris.

 General impressions:

Vaux le Vicomte went straight to number one in our castle visits top, mostly due the unique and intriguing history behind it.

Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux was the Superintendent of Finances in France under Louis XIV. When Cardinal Mazarin appointed Nicolas Fouquet as financial secretary in 1653, the collapse of the State Treasury was still causing great problems for France, and Fouquet was appointed to refill the empty Crown Treasury, which indeed he managed to do. Fouquet had already risen rapidly, and in 1641, at the age of 26, he had been able to buy the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte, thus having been a rapidly rising shining star amongst the officiers. Nicolas Fouquet's great and rapid success was due to his matchless intelligence and unparalleled daring. To these gifts of a sparkling and winning personality were added abundant generosity, a lively manner and great charms. 
The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic for its owner: the king had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on 17 August 1661 where Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux' debuted.The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious. Fouquet's intentions were to flatter the King: part of Vaux-le-Vicomte was actually constructed specifically for the king, but Fouquet's plan backfired. Jean-Baptiste Colbert led the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds. After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The castle's rooms are beautifully decorated; along the tour, in some of the States apartments and the basement you'll get the chance to see an exhibition which puts back to life the most important moments of Nicolas Fouquet's life, with the help of a neat production, using wax models, period costumes and surprising technical effects. see video below:

There's a great panoramic view from the castle's Dome; a few narrow stairs, but you shouldn't miss it. The inside wooden structure of the dome is also quite interesting.

How to get there:
  • take the train from Gare de Lyon, half an hour trip to Melun station.

    from Melun there's a shuttle bus taking you directly to the castle. One way ticket: 3,5€ per person or 7€ round trip. Departure Melun Station, avenue Gallieni in front of the "café de la gare".
  • see shuttle bus schedule here


Friday, June 18, 2010

Fete de la musique Paris 2010

Last year we arrived shortly after this amazing festival therefore missed it completely. Just another reason to enjoy it even more this year. 
Fete de la Musique, internationally known as World Music Day happens each year on the first summer day, June 21st (in the northern hemisphere).

Given that it will be on a Monday, have a good rest during this coming weekend to be ready for a sleepy Tuesday, because you will not be able to sleep through this musical festival. Actually it is not quite a festival, it's something else; all kinds of music and a very large audience: the whole Paris. Professional musicians as well  spontaneous amateurs are playing for free, taking over the Paris streets, cafes, parks, museums and even castles. 

What you have to do is just walk around Paris, take in the music and celebrate the longest day of the year!
More at:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tour de France History

I am writing this due to the fact that I recently discovered a new and interesting event. It is quite a weird feeling knowing about something all your life, but eventually not knowing anything about it... at least until one point. It is the same as, for example, seeing and using stamps all your life, but not knowing anything about studying them or why is collecting stamps one of the most popular hobbies in the world...

My finding out more about cycling and cycling races is not coincidental, as I am currently living in France and the 2010 Tour de France is soon kicking off (July 3rd in Rotterdam).
Therefore here I am telling you a few things about Tour de France, the biggest cycling race in the world, even if I barely know how to ride a bike.

After saying this you're free to stop reading...

Apparently Tour de France is at its 97th edition, quite a history. It all started in 1903 with a journalist's desire to make his sports magazine boost a little; and it worked, it boosted quite well, though it wasn't easy.

In the past the race seemed tougher than now: competitors raced during night time, with no extra gears, evading human blockades, route-jamming cars and nails placed on the road by fans of other riders.
Prior to big climbs, riders in the 1920s even shared cigarettes - thought to help respiration.

Back in 1903 stages would go through the night and finish next afternoon, with rest days before riders set off again. But this proved too daunting and the costs too great for most and only 15 entered. Desgrange, the editor, had never been wholly convinced and he came close to dropping the idea. Instead, he cut the length to 19 days, changed the dates to 1 July to 19 July, and offered a daily allowance of five francs to any rider in the first 50 who had won less than 200 francs and who had averaged at least 20 km/h on all the stages. That was what a rider would have expected to earn each day had he worked in a factory. He also cut the entry fee from 20 to 10 francs and set the first prize at 12,000 francs and the prize for each day's winner at 3,000 francs. The winner would thereby win six times what most workers earned in a year. That attracted between 60 and 80 entrants.

Since then the race has only been interrupted by the 2 World Wars, when the rights were owned by the government.

Even if you're a long life connoisseur or just a rookie, like I am, enjoy this year's race!!! it's coming soon!!!
See details of the 2010 Tour de France here

I am now realizing that I discovered cycling while the entire planet is indulging in football... a bit out of sync, but it never hurts to learn more.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Paris Fish and Chips

Living or visiting this very cosmopolitan city gives you a variety of food types. Paris has so many restaurants with cuisines from all over the world, that it is very hard to resist temptations.
This positive review goes to O’Sullivans, a chain of Irish Pubs here, in Paris.

The restaurant menu has, among other dishes, the typical Fish and Chips. So if you’re in Paris and miss Britain and Ireland you can pass by this pub/bar/restaurant/club.

The music is very varied, not too commercial, but not too niche either. After 11:30 it turns into a night club, and guys have to pay at the entrance… but usually you get a ticket which gives you a free drink inside. You’ll see a lot of foreigners around, the waiters and bartenders all speak English (they’re usually not French)...

All in all it makes a good options when you’re looking for a not very French place in Paris.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Le Touquet Paris Plage, France

Trips like these make me indeed happy about France and living here. There are tons of things I’m not comfortable with, but taking trips from Paris is really compensating.

Le Touquet was a day trip; as we were staying in Bulogne sur Mer for a long weekend we thought it might be a great idea to visit both (they are 10min away from one another, by train).

General Impressions:

Comparing it with Boulogne sur Mer I can say that Le Touquet is by far the most seaside like. Boulogne is a bit industrial, unlike Le Touquet it has a harbor, but on the other hand it’s worth visiting for its medieval Fortified Town and large aquarium.
Le Touquet is quite unique because a big part of it is actually in the woods. Close to the beach it looks like the typical sea coast city, but further from beach there are just little houses in the forest/park. The landscape is incredible, and the vacation houses are so pitoresque.

How to get there:

By train, from Boulogne sur Mer we got there in 10 min.; around 10EUR round trip. From Paris you can take a cheaper train Intercite - Corail.
The train station is actually in Etaples, close to Le Touquet, but not quit there. You can take a bus from the train station, which is not very frequent. We had a GPS so we decided to go by foot. There are ~5km from Etaples train station to Le Touquet, but it was definitely worth it, the surroundings are great.

Download Le Touquet map and miniplan here.

What to do:

There aren’t many attractions, this is a place to relax, enjoy the landscapes and have ice cream on the beach.

So grab your beach towel and sunglasses and get out of Paris!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chantilly Castle

Chantilly is a commune in Oise, France. We recently visited, but mostly for the Chantilly Castle and its gardens. Last year I read in the newspaper that they invested 6 million EUR in restoring the gardens... pretty good incentive for visiting.

General Impressions:

The castle itself was not 100% worth visiting. The ticket was 12eur and we just saw a small part of the castle, the one with paintings. They paintings gallery was great, but not enough. The apartments were closed and could only be visited through a guided tour (for which I suppose you have to pay extra).

The gardens on the other hand were impressive, the view was beautiful. Only thing missing were benches. There are 3 large gardens, one of them even has a few kangaroos, a donation made to the Estates. Close to the castle there is a large Hippodrome, Chantilly is famous for its horse races. You can get another ticket and see the horse stables also.

Even after seeing Chantilly I would still choose Fontainebleau as the most romantic visit.

How to get there:

From Gare du Nord you can take either the train or RER line D (30-45min trip). Station you arrive at is Chantilly-Gouvieux. Ticket is ~10eur/pers round trip.

By train you’ll maybe arrive 15min sooner, but RER is more frequent. RER is tricky if you buy the ticket from the vending machine; because the station is not listed (it’s outside Ile de France region). Maybe the best is to ask at the information desk.

When you arrive in Chantilly, outside the train station you’ll see a sign with the direction to the castle. Next to it there’s a Tourist Information Desk which is very helpful; they give you a map of Chantilly and they explain how to get to the castle.

La Capitainerie:

 This restaurant is on the ground floor of the castle, in the Vatel’s kitchens. It’s interesting first of all because it looks unique and second because they serve the food as buffet. The cheapest menu/formule is 15 EUR.

Useful tips:

If you use Google maps as reference, note that there’s an error: Chantilly Gouvieux station is called Orry la Ville which is actually the one before Chantilly. It confused us a lot as we thought that’s our stop.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Boulogne sur Mer, France

My husband and I love weekend breaks and let me tell you something, living in France sure gives you a lot of traveling options.

We just got back from a long weekend in Boulogne Sur Mer, a small city in northern France (see map). It was a great 2 and half day trip so I’ll give here some tips and reasons to visit:

How to get there:
  • From Paris to Boulogne there is a cheaper train (Intercite Corail) - around 30eur round trip. It takes 2h 40min to get there. You can find tickets on Voyage SNCF.
  • At the train station you’ll have a map so it will be easy to get around.
Where to stay: 
  • If you’re in France you’ll always find Accor Hotels, even in small towns 
  • We stayed at Les Gens de Mer, a good option for a 2 star hotel. Find rates and availability on their website. 
  • You can add these keywords to your search: gites (a holiday house), location vacances (holiday rentals), logement (accommodation)
What to see:  
  • Boulogne sur Mer has an International Sea Center, NAUSICAA Boulogne sur Mer, a very interesting aquarium. Not many sharks, but a variety of other species (penguins, sea lions, crocodiles, etc.) 

  • The greatest part of Boulogne sur Mer is the Old Fortified Town. It’s a must see. You can take walks on the fortification’s walls; it’s located on a hill so there’s a great view of the ocean from up there. 
  • The Old Town also has a beautiful cathedral and a Chateau Museum  
  • The city's official website has very useful information.
  • Le Touquet Paris Plage is another small town on the coast. It’s 15 min away from Boulogne, by train, so we didn’t miss the chance an visited it too.
  • Here's a map of the fortified Town. Print it and stick it together.

What and where to eat: 
  • There is a lot of really cheap sea food around Boulogne sur Mer; especially moules (mussels); you’ll find everywhere moules et frites (mussels and fries) for around 10-12eur. 
  • We’ve tried a few restaurants, but the best was Pierre Chaude. You’ll find it in the Old Town, round the corner from Hotel de Ville. A menu for 15eur included a large bowl of moules, main dish (they have a very good Boeuf Bourguignon) and desert.    Other reviews, location, their website here. 


  • The weather is said to be colder in this region. Therefore we went with our winter coats; as it turned out it was gorgeous even though they said it would rain. With our bare feet in the sand and warm jackets on we really had some funny pictures to take. My advice is to be prepared for any weather, whatever the predictions are.
  • Don't buy the train ticket in the last minute as you might not find any. This part of the coast is a very popular weekend destination for Parisians as it's the closest beach to Paris.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Restaurant Chartier Paris

We have been living in the 9th arrondissement of Paris for a while now and it was just recently that we had lunch at Chartier Restaurant. This restaurant has seen and known two centuries since its creation in 1896.

We were often passing by, but never went in because each time there was a huge waiting line at the entrance. So one Sunday, as we were planning on having lunch at O'Sullivans, a chain of nice Irish Pubs, we passed right by Chartier. We took a look at the menu, which seemed awkwardly cheap, and decided to try it. There were only two couples in front of us in line and we were also hungry... perfect timing. Inside the place was packed, but we felt lucky sitting at a table for 4. As we were just saying how nice it is that they put us there, another couple had joined our table. It was hilarious. After all these months of living here and we're still surprised when something like this happens. The waiter asked us if we are deux par deux or together; we said 'deux' and he replied laughing 'you are 4 now'.

If you want to get a full taste of the Paris atmosphere this is the place: the architecture and decorations give the 19th century ambiance, the waiters are old school, the tables are small and all jammed together...

The only thing missing is good food. As I said the menu is really cheap, the cheapest I've ever seen around Paris, but the food doesn't shine and the plateful is not that full.
A more in detail review of Bouillon Chartier is given by David Lebovitz, a great chocolate and pastry maker, living the sweet life in Paris.